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Inequity the greatest current COVID threat: WHO

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The World Health Organisation has expressed concern for health services around the world as the Omicron variant of the coronavirus continues its rapid spread. World Health Organisation Director General is concerned for countries with low inoculation rates, and calls for greater vaccine distribution worldwide.

The Omicron variant of COVID-19 is much more contagious than previous strains but seems to cause less serious disease.

That's triggered debate on whether the virus is on the verge of passing from the pandemic phase to becoming an endemic disease that humanity can live with, with the implication that the danger will have passed.

The WHO's head of emergencies, Dr. Michael Ryan, disputes this, advising that the worst of the pandemic can only end if gross inequities in vaccinations are quickly addressed.

"We won't end the virus this year. We may never end the virus. These viruses - pandemic viruses - end up becoming part of the ecosystem. What we can end is the public health emergency. The issue is: it's the death, it's the hospitalizations. It's the disruption of our social, economic, political systems that's caused the tragedy, not the virus. The virus is a vehicle. It's how society has reacted to that virus and the presence of it. Endemic in itself does not mean 'good.' Endemic just means it's here forever. What we need to do is get to low levels of disease incidence with maximum vaccination of our populations so nobody has to die. That's the end of the emergency, in my view. That's the end of the pandemic."

The toll of inequality is far-reaching and health experts say if leaders allow COVID to continue to spread unabated in low-income countries, it will only dramatically increase the chance of new, more dangerous variants emerging.

Over in the United States, there's been a small drop in daily reported COVID cases, yet deaths and hospitalisations are both up.

More than 900 COVID-19 deaths have already been recorded across England and Wales this month, a figure that comes at an already challenging time for the British Government.

And more than 150,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the United Kingdom since the start of the pandemic, the second-highest in all of Europe, behind Russia.

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SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at https://www.sbs.com.au/language/coronavirus

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